From the Pencil to Video Chat: Block Live Blazes New Tax Prep Trail

Pencils might still be on the tax desk like in 1955 when the business started, but the client could be anywhere, even at home, and still work one-on-one, face-to-face with an H&R Block tax professional. Now, H&R Block gives you the opportunity to do everything you would at an appointment in one of its offices to prepare your tax returns, but from wherever you choose– all via video chat.

It only makes sense that the company that started the professional tax preparation industry is the first to provide the next level of preparation: real-time assistance via online video conference or chat, which combines the convenience of DIY prep with the benefits of having an appointment with one of H&R Block’s highly educated tax professionals.

“The introduction of Block Live provides an innovative way for clients to access the industry’s best trained tax professionals when, where and how they want to be served,” said Phil Mazzini, president of assisted tax preparation services at H&R Block. “We are bringing the expertise of our network of tax professionals directly to the taxpayer. Block Live literally takes the ‘trip’ out of the trip to the tax office.”

Equipment – what you need to go live

The Consumer Electronics Association reported that in 2011, half of Black Friday shoppers bought electronic gadgets, with the top sellers being smartphones and tablets. Items and digital options that just a few years ago were considered by many to be extravagances are quickly becoming a new normal for many.

“Applications like Skype and Facetime have made video calls mainstream. Our consumer research shows that clients love the idea of working from home with a tax professional at a time that is most convenient for them,” said Derek Swords, director of product management at H&R Block.

So what do you need to use Block Live? Taxpayers who have a computer, web camera and microphone can get their return prepared in real time via video conference. The video system uses Adobe Flash Player, which is something 99 percent of consumers already have, so there is no new software to install. Clients don’t even have to have a scanner to use this service because they can take pictures with their smartphone and the information will be encrypted by the Block Live App and sent to the tax pro. Another option is to fax your W-2 and other tax documents.

But, you don’t even have to have a web camera to use Block Live because there are phone and chat options that allow for real-time communication.

Experience – what it will be like

During the first part of the Block Live experience, you can search for tax pros by ZIP code and expertise. Selecting from the list of qualified tax professionals will be made easier because you will be given information about their specific experience. You can opt to have your appointment immediately if someone is available, even if it is late at night. But, after all, what is “late night” is relative because this system is available to clients no matter where they are in the world.

“People have really busy lifestyles and taking time off to go to an appointment at a tax office may not be an option for those who want the special attention that goes along with working with a tax professional,” Swords said. “Block Live provides a practical, convenient option for these clients.”

The opportunity to plug in information about your financial situation ensures you are matched with a tax professional who understands your needs. These are among the situations the matching system will consider: investments/stock options, home foreclosure, health care expenses, loss from disasters or theft, and whether you are self-employed or in the military. All this information will keep important tax credits and deductions you are entitled from being overlooked.

Expertise – who will be at the other end

The average H&R Block client is assisted by a tax professional who has more than eight years of experience and 450 hours of training. In addition to that training, all of the Block Live tax pros were required to pass more than 84 hours of specialty training to join this special team. Plus, they are real people who understand the challenges we all face in balancing our responsibilities.

“I’m very excited to be participating in the launch of Block Live,” said Elaine Smith, enrolled agent at H&R Block. “Many of my clients have busy lives between family, work and volunteer activities. Having the flexibility to meet with my clients on their terms, at a time and place that’s convenient for them, is one of the things I’m looking forward to the most this tax season. Plus, if they happen to forget some documents or information at home, with Block Live they don’t have to reschedule their appointment.”

So as the April 17 tax deadline draws closer, keep in mind that H&R Block is the only tax preparation company offering live, video chat to its clients. It’s one-on-one, just like the good old days, but much more convenient and efficient.

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